Perhaps to increase the likelihood that Smith would accept some kind of plea agreement, the DA’s office claimed it would bring Ashbrook to the stand to testify against Smith. In an interview with the Weekly, however, Ashbrook vehemently denied he’d agreed to do so. “They came to my house with badges and asked me some questions about Brennie,” he says. “I told them Brennie was a member of the Brotherhood as far as it being a church, but that he didn’t do anything and wasn’t any kind of kingpin, and they were milking a dead horse. I asked them why they hadn’t let him out of jail yet, and they told me they were going to give Brennie a deal and let him out of jail on Friday.”

Indeed, on Nov. 20, Deputy DA Jim Hicks—whose father, Cecil Hicks, had been Orange County’s DA at the time of the original Brotherhood conspiracy trial—offered Smith a deal: If he pleaded guilty to a single charge of smuggling hashish from Afghanistan to Orange County between 1966 and 1972, they’d let him go with three years of unsupervised probation, meaning he was free to travel, including back home to Nepal. Hicks agreed to drop all charges relating to the second arrest warrant that police had used to nab Smith at the airport.

That case involved a 1979 Afghan smuggling operation carried out by several members of the Brotherhood, which fell apart after the Shah of Iran was ousted and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan that year. But transcripts from that trial, which originated when a load of hash was captured in the Bay Area, show that Smith played no direct role in the scheme other than traveling to Kabul. The government’s witness, Walter McAllister, testified Smith had done nothing other than “build a tennis court,” and visit his “goofy guru” while there.

At his hotel room in Long Beach Nov. 20, just hours after being released from jail
Courtesy William Kirkley
At his hotel room in Long Beach Nov. 20, just hours after being released from jail

At the Nov. 20 hearing, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg asked Smith if he agreed to the terms of his plea. Asked by the judge about his plans for the future, Smith said, “I’ll be moving back to Nepal. I won’t be giving you any more trouble.” Smith then signed a series of items indicating his acceptance of the deal by writing his initials—“BS”—wherever his lawyer pointed.

“This case really brings me back,” Froeberg observed, waxing nostalgic. “I was in high school back then.”

“So was I,” Smith responded.

“Orange County has changed a lot since then, hasn’t it?” the judge asked.

“No, your honor,” Smith said. “I don’t believe it has.”

*     *     *

Three days later, I’m driving Smith to court to provide that DNA sample he’s obliged to donate. Despite telling the judge he didn’t think Orange County had changed much, it’s clear Smith is in the grip of a powerful culture shock. “Is this the freeway?” he asks as we drive along Seventh Street past the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Long Beach. When we get off the 22 freeway in Santa Ana, Smith can hardly believe how many tall buildings there are everywhere. “Where did all these people come from?” he marvels.

At an intersection several blocks from the court, James hands a dollar bill to her uncle, who struggles to find the right button to push to lower the window so he can hand it to a homeless man holding a sign on the sidewalk.

A few minutes later, we park next to the courthouse and spend the next three hours trying to find someone who can give Smith the correct forms so his mouth can be swabbed for DNA. Nobody knows what to do with him; when Smith was indicted 37 years ago, computers were still decades away from being used to track court cases in Orange County. So we wait in line for an hour only to discover the computer system has no record of his ever having been arrested, much less convicted.

Finally, after several telephone calls to the DA’s office and Smith’s Chicago-based defense attorney, James arranges for the lawyer to e-mail the clerk a copy of the judge’s minute order requiring Smith to submit his DNA sample upstairs. Our next stop is the DA’s second-floor window, where a suit-wearing prosecutor who looks like Eliot Ness asks Smith in an ironic tone whether he can afford to pay the $75 filing fee for the DNA sample.

“No, sir, I can’t afford to pay because I have absolutely no money and haven’t had any money for 40 years,” Smith says. “And I don’t plan to have any money ever again in my life.”

The attorney nods his head, unimpressed. “We’ll see about that after HBO gets a hold of you,” he remarks.

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